Kofuku-ji boasts a history of 1300 years
Kofuku-ji is the head temple of the Hosso sect, one of the 6 Nara Era Buddhist sects. Its history began in 669, when the wife of Fujiwara-no-Kamatari prayed for her husband’s recovery from illness at the preceding Yamashina Temple which had worshipped various Buddhas. Following the Jinshin War of 672 when the capital was moved to Asuka, the temple was re-named Umayasaka Temple. And then in 710 when the capital was relocated to Heian, it was moved to its current location and was named Kofuku-ji by Fujiwara-no-Fuhito. The temple buildings burned down many times such as in 1181 during the Siege of Nara and in 1717. The serious early Meiji Era crises involving the law distinguishing Shinto and Buddhism and the ousting of Buddhism from Japan took place, but the temple miraculously survived. In 1998, the temple was registered as a World Cultural Asset when it became a Historic Monument of Ancient Nara.
Architecture befitting a National Treasure with the symbol of Nara, Goju-no-To (Five-storied pagoda)
Kofuku-ji consists of 11 buildings and the remains of 2 others. Since the Meiji Era, the grounds of the temple have become a part of Nara Park. For that reason, the walls and the Nandaimon Gate demarcating the grounds have been eliminated, and at this time, it is difficult to imagine the orderly layout of the grounds during the Tempyo Era. Nonetheless, there are many places to see such as the Hoku’en-do (Northern Octagonal Hall), re-built in the Kamakura Era, and other examples of National Treasure architecture along with the Nan’en-do (South Octagonal Hall). The first thing you notice is the Goju-no-to with a height of 50.1 m. Following its construction in 730 by Empress Komyo, it was burned down and re-built 5 times. The current building was re-built in 1426. Still, it is impressive that it is a wooden structure from over 600 years ago that continues to stand even now. Usually, it is not allowed to see the interior, but the statues of Yakushi Triad, Shaka Triad, Amida Triad and Miroku Triad are enshrined there facing the four walls. Illuminated at night, you can enjoy a slightly different effect in the daytime.
The National Treasure Museum where the Ashura is enshrined is a Buddhist treasure house
Speaking of the popular Buddhist statues at Kofuku-ji, the statue of Ashura is a must-see. Ashura is the God of War in Hindu mythology, and it’s natural for him to express fury. However, the statue of Ashura at Kofuku-ji doesn’t show any of that anger. With its 3 faces and 6 arms, it has the sweet countenance of a boy which charms those who see it. In addition to the Ashura enshrined at the museum, there are also exhibits such as the gigantic 5.2 m. Thousand-Armed Kannon statue which make it a valuable collection of Buddhist statues. Even so, instead of looking through glass cases, most of the Buddhist statues can be seen directly from just a few meters away. Through lighting and other techniques, the statues’ expressions can be starkly seen from various angles which also deepens the interest.